Just weeks after a Catholic priest and 240 Catholics were kidnapped by Islamic militants, the faithful in the Philippines were attacked again when terrorists destroyed a Catholic chapel and desecrated consecrated hosts.
The Catholic News Agency (CNA) is reporting on the latest attack which took place during a nine-hour siege on the town of Malagakit in southern Philippines. The June 21 attack was carried out by an estimated 300 gunmen from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) which has pledged allegiance to ISIS.
During the attack, residents were forced to flee as militants robbed houses and stores at gunpoint.
They then stormed the Catholic Chapel of Malagkit in the parish of Pigcawayn and used hammers to destroy religious icons and fixtures. They also desecrated consecrated hosts.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato condemned the attack “in the strongest terms possible” calling the desecration “wicked” and asking for prayers for the Archdiocese.
“If the BIFF wants to have an image as a ‘respecter’ of all religions, it must punish its members who perpetrated the odious desecration in Malagakit and educate all its members in strictly respecting other religions,” he said.
The Cardinal urged the Catholic faithful to restore their chapel and asked everyone to pray for peace and harmony among believers of all faiths.
Some town leaders believe the attack on the chapel might have been an attempt to sow division between the town’s Catholics and Muslims who live together in peace.
The vice governor of North Cotabato, Shirlyn Macasarte-Villanueva, urged Muslim and Christian residents to disregard attempts to spark discord in the town.
“Let us be sober and continue with the friendship and solidarity that we have. We just have to be vigilant and we need to help each other prevent a repeat of the incident,” Macasarte-Villanueva said Thursday.
As CNA reports, this attack follows a May 22 siege on parts of a city on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, where militants burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence.
“At the cathedral, they took hostages including a Catholic priest and a group of church-goers, threatening to kill them if the nation’s military does not cease its current offensive against them,” CNA writes.
According to a report by Channel NewsAsia, the abducted priest, Father Teresito “Chito” Suganob, was spotted this past weekend in Marawi as government forces attempted to dislodge IS-backed militants who are occupying parts of the city.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said civilians rescued from the battle zone said the priest had been seen alive on Sunday in a part of the city still in the hands of the extremists.
“We don’t have details of his health,” Herrera said. “We were just told that he was sighted alive.”
The recent violence in the Philippines is the result of a military operation aimed at Isnilon Hapilon, a Filipino militant leader and designated ISIS emir for Southeast Asia.
As CNN reports, Hapilon is thought to have issued an emergency call for reinforcements from members of the Maute group, a local Islamist militant organization that has pledged allegiance to ISIS. These reinforcements supposedly poured into Marawi by the hundreds, setting fire to buildings, taking hostages and engaging government forces in bloody street battles.
“While Islamist and criminal groups have been active in the lawless tri-border area between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia for years, such an audacious and aggressive attack on government troops by fighters loyal to ISIS has shocked many observers — and increased fears the group is succeeding in extending its influence into Southeast Asia,” CNA reports.
More than 86 percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic, with just four percent adhering to the Muslim faith, with most of them concentrated in the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan.
If fears of a spreading Islamic caliphate prove true, it would place the Catholic Church squarely in its crosshairs.
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